Monday, November 8, 2010

My Trip to Nepal

 Upon landing in Kathmandu, the first thing I needed to do was buy the visa on arrival. I thought it was so funny that they did not accept their own money, Nepalese Rupee, for the visa. They only accepted strong currencies like USD, GBP, Euro, AUSD, NZD, Yen, etc., certainly not Thai Baht though! Anyway, I had to get USD, which I found silly.

The next thing I noticed was how diverse the tourist population was. It really puts in perspective what a small amount of tourists are American; I came across only a small handful of Americans on this trip. I think I was under the false notion that Americans are somewhat ahead at everything but tourism is certainly not dominated by Americans. I also found it interesting that although Nepal lies between China and India, the Nepali people look mostly Indian, not Chinese. I assume this is because the Himalayas divide Nepal and China…

All About Bikram Yoga

I'm improving :)         Have you ever felt like life was okay, but perhaps something is missing? And you may or may not be consciously aware of this feeling or have any clue what will satisfy it? I think passion is often that thing. To feel so passionate and to enjoy something or someone so much is crucial to human nature. This time around, I found yoga. This is not to say that one hobby will be enough to fulfill that feeling forever, but at this point in my life, yoga was what was missing.

I feel like now I know what religious people feel like, to really believe in the teachings of something so much; so much in fact that you want to share it with everyone so that they too can better their lives because you are sure it can. Though imposing your beliefs in extreme ways is not necessary, I think being a teacher of something you are passionate about is… well I cannot think of a more perfect job! To have genuine enthusiasm toward new students, truly enjoy watching them improve, and offer the best of your knowledge to them sounds very rewarding. Actually, I already have and feel all of these things for newcomers even as a fellow student! Anyway, when I finish up the school year and some traveling here in March and April, if all goes according to plan, I am going to head back to the states to become a certified Bikram Yoga teacher. Then I will venture back out into the world, national or international, to start teaching!

         My studio here in Phuket was lucky enough to have Bikram visit us.  He taught a class!  I was starstruck, it was like everything out of his mouth had to be true.  He knew exactly how to help people when they thought they couldn't do something; he knew they could do it without hurting themselves and he was right.  He even called me out and had me try something I didn't know I could do!  He helped me try an advanced position where I was on my knees and bent around backwards and he then proceeded to stand on my hips, causing everyone to gasp.  I didn't even know what was happening.  Then his wife happen to stop by not long after him and teach a class!  How lucky we are at such a small studio!

Me and Bikram
        Bikram Yoga (aka hot yoga) is pretty different than other types of yoga. The room is over 105 degrees and 40-50% percent humidity also. Class is 90 minutes, and you do a series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises that involve balance, strength, and stretching. Even though you don’t leave your mat, it gets your heart rate up so much, plus those 3 things are more necessary for your body than, say, cardio. I never did yoga before because it didn’t seem to be a worthwhile workout. I thought, yes balance is good, but it wastes an awful lot of time that could be spent just jogging and burning calories like a traditional workout. Sometimes I think Bikram yoga shouldn’t even be called yoga because it evokes the wrong image in peoples' minds. There are yoga classes out there that correspond with that image, you know, seated meditation, chanting, closing your eyes—none of which occur in a Bikram class. My feelings on Bikram yoga are not inclusive to those classes.

        This yoga is spiritual for me in a different way than people imagine yoga to be. We never just sit there and meditate but the balancing postures have so much to concentrate on that you really are in a meditation thinking about all the things you are trying to get your body to do while maintaining balance. Balance can be a very mental thing; some days you have it and some days you don’t, depending on external factors and whatnot. If you saw the way I have to stare at one thing while I maintain the balance and think about everything else, you would see that it is a kind of meditation. Also, the goal for the teacher is to talk the entire time, basically being your brain for you for 90 minutes.

        Bikram yoga is tough, especially if you aren’t flexible. The good news is that as long as you are doing the posture as best you can, accomplishing each step correctly before advancing yourself in the posture, you are gaining 100 percent of the same benefits! It is perfectly fine to sit or lay down on your mat if you feel dizzy or weak, just don’t leave the room! Bikram yoga is great for any kind of physical injury or even illness. People may think they can’t do it because of an injury but it is exactly what will cure it.

        Besides just being happier and having a hobby to work at, I feel healthier and have better posture. Plus I may have toned up a bit and lost some weight. I think about yoga during the day and look forward to going!

So there it is, I have been converted and now I am preaching the good word. Try it at least once!

Exciting Visit from Mom

It was difficult to predict if, after visiting, my mom would like the idea of me living here more or less.  I felt like I needed to protect her from seeing the crazy driving and the prostitutes and all the Thai craziness but just because those things are prevalent here, doesn’t mean a mom has to freak out.

Thai Kindergarten (a little rant)

         Now I myself am going to go on an expat rant!  (I know it’s hypocritical since I just talked about how obnoxious foreigners who complain are, but I generally keep a positive attitude, I just gotta let this rant out!)

         My biggest challenge in teaching here, which I may have mentioned before, is adhering to the methods used here for teaching such young children.  At home, kids go to kindergarten when they are 5 or 6, then to first grade.  Here, there is Pre-K, K1, K2, and K3, and then first grade.  So K3 is basically equivalent to “kindergarten” at home.  Kindergarten is when children are first faced with some studying of letters and sounds and handwriting.  By this time, children have already picked up on a lot of this knowledge and ability through other means, such as singing and playing.  Here, they don’t seem to think “playing” can be educational at all. SO, starting in Pre-K (which at home would be pre-pre-pre-k), they have kids tracing lines and are yelling at them for not tracing and coloring inside the lines.  This is what is difficult for me: not only forcing 2-4 year olds to sit in a desk for a lesson and a boring assignment, but also telling then its not good enough and making them do it again.  I neglected to be strict with my K1 students’ tracing and coloring for one semester and was informed that they were behind and I needed to take it up a notch.  It breaks my heart to be tough on them for something I personally don’t believe matters.

        All this bookwork makes for a lot of marking (yes, we have to take a red pen and correct every little wrong slant in every letter) which leaves the teacher no time to engage in play with the students.  Without close monitoring and planning of playtime, it isn’t educational.  A bucket of broken mixed up toys is dumped on the ground and the kids go nuts.  I have put a lot of effort into keeping the toys sorted and only offering one bunch at a time, so that the students see how the toys are to be used correctly, something that is not clear when they are mixed up.  I worked at a Montessori school at home where preschoolers play with one set of toys at a time and are asked to clean it up before moving on.  Broken toys are not acceptable as there is nothing to learn from a toy that can’t fulfill its own purpose.  “Kindergarten” here is a Montessori preschool teacher’s nightmare. 

Teaching Healthy Foods
        Anyway, the kids here, even in a private school setting, are either doing work, which they may or may not understand, or going wild, practically unmonitored, while playing with pointless toys.  They have no scheduled daily recess, only 1 PE class per week.  If the whole class finishes their work in a lesson, the teacher can take the kids to the playground (also containing an excess of broken toys) for a few minutes.  On top of that exhausting day, some kindergartners stay for the extra English lesson from 3:30-4:30 and some even stay for an extra Thai lesson from 4:30-5:15. We try to make class as fun as we have time for.  We try to use crafts and clay etc, and the students also attend two Song and Drama classes per week, one Art class, and one Computer class.  The kindergarten teachers stay busy during that time doing the marking, planning, and escorting.

        I hate that I find myself so upset when 20 three year olds aren’t sitting still in their desks or doing their endless pages of tracing. These kids don’t know what they’re missing and still manage to come to school with huge smiles on their faces.  They are so precious and so smart. I could rant about these methods all day (as I mentioned that some expats do) but the truth is, I love my students and at the end of the day, that’s why I have stayed.  I didn’t come here to teach Montessori school.  I came for the learning experience of teaching not in America and for the opportunity to interact with children of a different culture.  I have found all of these things here and wouldn’t trade my time here for any job at home.  That said, I could not do this job forever, but it is nice to explore. 

Expat Culture

          I left home one year ago and can really say that my feelings on living in Thailand have come full circle. I have loved and hated many of the same things here at one point or another.